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A study of the characteristics of crimes committed by mentally ill offenders.

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There is ongoing controversy concerning the relationship between crime, violence and mental illness. Studies from the first half of the century reported low arrest rates amongst the mentally ill. However recent researchers have suggested an increase in crime amongst the mentally ill since the advent of deinstitutionalisation, while other studies have implicated social factors, inadequate community facilities and prior criminality to account for this apparent trend. A longitudinal prospective and descriptive study was therefore planned to investigate the relationship between crime and mental illness. All consecutive admissions to the Midlands Hospital Observation Unit during a six month period were included in this study. Relevant information was obtained from personal interviews by the author and from court records. The final study sample consisted of those in whom a final finding was made in terms of Section 78(2) of the Criminal Procedures Act 51 of 1977. The significant findings were: DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS. The majority of mentally ill offenders were young males in the age range 20-29 years. CHARACTERISTICS OF CRIMES COMMITTED BY MENTALLY ILL OFFENDERS. The majority of mentally ill offenders were apprehended for property offences, theft being most common. Chi square analysis produced the following statistically significant findings pertaining to mentally ill offenders: 1. Mentally ill offenders committed significantly more property offences. Crimes were significantly less dangerous and less physically violent. 2. Fewer crimes involved use of a weapon. 3. Significantly more crimes were seemingly without a motive or in response to an hallucination or delusion. 4. Offences were seldom planned. 5. Crimes were more visible, most occurring during the day, with little attempt made to conceal the act. In conclusion most mentally ill offenders committed commonplace offences which due to their greater visibility may have predisposed them being channelled through the criminal justice system. Investigation revealed a need for further research into this controversial sub-group of mentally ill patients.


Thesis (M.Med.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1992.


Mentally ill offenders., Theses--Psychiatry.